Author's Note: This is the product of a plot bunny that wouldn't go away and my own dissatisfaction with a certain turn of events in 'AWE'. I hope that posting this, and subsequent chapters as I finish and revise them, will push me into getting them out in a timely manner and, more importantly, actually finish this. ;)
Feedback is appreciated – both good and bad.
Disclaimer: I own none of the characters – everything belongs to their respective owners and, of course, Disney.
I felt it then, cold and hard and unyielding. Death's breath slipped through me just as the blade did, splitting me in two it seemed. The world was slipping away as I edged to the floor, an unwelcome but comforting numbness washing through my limbs. I took a rattling breath, my lungs burning with the effort, and I tasted the sea. It was the salt and air and ocean that had been my life for so long. It was the taste of my duty and my accomplishment.
And the bitterness of my failure and fall.
Waves clapped against the ship, I could see them, just as I imagined a woman among them, tossed to safety. God I hoped so ... Was that her screaming? Or simply the familiar ringing of a tired man's conscience, never pleased and never satisfied? It didn't matter anymore, did it? I was finished. I felt it with every breath; with that pain that sprang from my heart and spread outwards; with the weight of my eyelids as they demanded to close, to end. To rest.
A rhythmic thump reverberated through the ship's planking and I vaguely recognized the ominous cadence. I felt them around me more than I was able to see; the crew's figures gathering, in barnacles rather than uniforms. He was there then, in an instant, looming and disgusting. Had I never laid eyes on him myself, I would have thought any man who believed in Jones and his Locker a fool.
I felt a surge of anger suddenly, unbidden, and I knew what was coming as he looked at me with those cold eyes, the very storms of the seas themselves resting in them, taunting me with transgressions past. I knew the question that was to be asked and I hated him for it. He lurched toward me with the ship, the stench of a watery grave hitting me.
James Norrington, do you fear death?
There was screaming again, the wind whistling with it, indistinguishable, and I thought of her; that last look, touch. The pain from the steel in my chest paled in comparison to that last and lonely image that would always haunt me.
A raving sailor was dragged to the side from behind the monster in front of me, his cries blending with those of a woman...
There were stories from my men, those who had faced this similar crushing weight of shaking off their mortal coil. Stories where their entire lives flooded their minds eye and it was nothing but a tumult of success and regret, love and loss. I stood by them in their sickbeds, the good soldier, captain, commodore, indulgent and benevolent; sympathetic but doubtful. I understood them now as what felt as though an eternity of thought froze me in that cold panic as I felt my very being slipping into the depths of Jones' eyes in front of me, carrying me down into the sea which I would no doubt be thrown into once it was all over.
This promotion throws into sharp relief that which I have... not yet achieved .
What I have 'not yet achieved'. It's nearly laughable. How silly it all was. I had never accomplished much, had I? I did my duty fairly and was promoted accordingly. And just where has it landed me? Dying on some godforsaken ship, run through by a man out of his mind, seeing the woman I love falling into the ocean as a last effort of escape, lap dogging under the command a charlatan, and carrying a bevy of regret and disappointment.
It had gone wrong somewhere, and the blame – as I fought for so long to deny – rested entirely upon my shoulders.
James Norrington, what has the world done to you?
Nothing I didn't deserve.
Another painful breath I felt to the pit of my stomach. My fingers twitched against my sword and there it was, the last spark of my life dying in my limbs in a helpless anger. I wished for death. I longed for it, because it would erase everything my life had become. Never a husband, nor a man my own Father who had called son proudly. An ex-officer, a former pirate and drunkard, and now a dying man.
Nothing I don't deserve.
It was a twisting injustice I felt then, coiling inside me as I fought for consciousness. That those whom I had let down – my men, those I was sworn to protect, Elizabeth, myself – would die with me on this ship. Any hope of righting my wrongs would die as well. It would have all been in vain. I'll never even know if she's safe...
One good deed is not enough to redeem a man of a lifetime of wickedness.
But is a start. I deserve an eternity of this – an offer of damnation for one already damned. And by God if it allows me even a moment more, even one more small chance to fix the shambles I've created ... it is worth it.
James Norrington, do you fear death?
No. But I fear the prospect of dying a coward. I fear the thought of what awaits me should I give into the pressing darkness and all it's comforts. I fear not living with what I have done. I deserve the weight of my sins, and those whom I have abandoned and sacrificed deserve my efforts to honor them. No longer as a sailor, or an admiral, but as a man.
"Yes," I breathed. I lied. I felt the sweat breaking out across my brow, a death rattle rising inside me and the chill of it running down my spine, sparking against the wound, felt the blood rushing against my skin.
It was darker now, but I saw it. That ghost of a smile on his disfigured, tarnished features. Jones looked at me, smug and approving. I could feel the astonishment, could hear the quiet jeers of those of the Dutchman's crew whom I had just signed my soul away to in joining.
It's captain – my captain – lent toward me again, the floorboards creaking with the weight. A tentacled hand snaked across the the weapon still protruding from me, wrapping around it with a sickening sound. He pulled it from me, swift and brutal. Pain burned through me like fire, lights going off behind the lids of my closed eyes and I gasped, fighting down the urge to scream. I was thankful for it then as I felt the strength return to my body and I lifted a hand to clutch at the closing wound. Pain lets us know we are still alive.
"Now now," Jones began, turning away from me, "it only hurts the first time, Admiral. Though I doubt you'll be gettin' the luxury of such a title now, boy. Welcome to the crew."